Kay Bratt 9/16/2021
(previously published in my author/reader group called MY BOOK FRIENDS)
It was once Gracie’s favorite room in the house but as she entered today, it greeted her fondly, asking why she had been away so long. A place where she could escape to read a book, write a letter, or sit and think. She remembered fondly the first years after Harry had refinished it for her, his gift as a special place, surrounded by her favorite things.
She didn’t use it much anymore, but she still dusted there every so often, taking care of her beloved books and rinsing the tub though it had been many years since she had felt Lambert enough to draw her a comforting bath and soak. There were so many dangers for someone her age to take a bath alone. But tonight she would have a bath, and she would remember Harry in the things that he did to make her life more comfortable. She lit a candle, that smelled of lavender, and set out a slice of mill soap that her niece had bought her at least four years ago for some birthday or holiday that she couldn’t quite remember.
She pondered what book she would like to read as she soaked.
As literary as her husband always claimed her to be, secretly she was not a fan of the classics. She would much rather immerse herself in a riveting biography of a survivor of some sort of strife in life. Like the book called Unbroken, the story of how a man was shot down from the sky and ended up in a pow camp. How he survived everything that he had gone through was one of her favorites and when she had read it, there were many nights that Harry listened to her read aloud, and together they marveled over the tenacity of the human spirit. She liked to tease her husband that he reminded her of Louis Zamperini, the main character in the biography, as Harry also had a lifelong love of running. He had jogged all his life, even up to his last six months when the simple act of bending over to tie his shoes caused him pain.
From the linen closet she took out one of her best guest towels and held it to her face. It didn’t smell as fresh as it had when she’d placed it in there, as her towels were so rarely used anymore. It had been nearly a decade since she had had an overnight guest. Her daughter had her own family and a busy life. Once the grandchildren got older, coming to grandmas was no longer on their list of favorite things to do. The halls that once rang out with the slapping of little feet and the giggles, and yes, the demands of the young children now echoed with the sound of her hollow footsteps.
Her lone companion, Delta, had taken her last breath that very morning and Gracie had been there with her squeezing in the last bit of sweet words of gratitude to thank her for so many years of loyalty. Delta looked more like a bag of bones than a cat, and she had held on for a handful more years only because she did not want her mistress alone in the big house. Many times Gracie knew her purring wasn’t from comfort but more of a reminder to the cat that she was still breathing.
Gracie went to the bookshelf and scanned the titles. There was the book called A Beautiful Mind, and she remembered reading it on their cruise around the world for their 50th anniversary. It was based on the life of John Nash, a phenomenal mathematician that behind his accolades, suffered greatly against schizophrenia and the havoc it wreaked on his life. It wasn’t much of a vacation book, Harry had said, but Gracie considered it one of her most captivating reads to date. They had sunbathed together, she with her nose in her book and he in his, an exploration of the adventure of Christopher McCandless, who hitchhiked to Alaska and disappeared into the wilderness and died in his shelter five months later. Harry claimed the book was fantastic but declined to see the movie that came later.
She sighed as she scanned the dusty shelves. On them were much more than books. There were memories, each title invoking a small piece of her life and what she was doing at the time she’d read it.
There were books she’d read bleary-eyed in the middle of the night, one arm under her colicky infant daughter and one turning pages. Books she’d read while in the hospital waiting rooms, one particular one she’d barely understood the words but needed something to do while the minutes of her mother’s life ticked down to nothing. Books on getting your toddler through the terrible twos and books on raising rebellious teens. There was a bit of life on every shelf. But the book she stopped at now was special, the spine so tattered the title could barely be read.
A book of poems.
A gift from Harry on only their second date when they were both in college. Harry never claimed to be a man of words, but as the story goes, he had gone to his grandfather for advice on how to win Gracie over. Harry had always wanted a love like his grandfather shared with his grandmother and had lasted for 63 years. His grandfather told him to go back to the basics and be a gentleman. Woo her with flowers and poetry, words of adoration.
She glanced at her small writing desk against the window. Harry had put a new vase of flowers there every Sunday after church, without fail. Today she’d stopped at the small shop in town and chosen her own bouquet. Something pink, for Harry, because he always did tell her he loved to see her in pink.
She pulled the book of poetry from its place and held it, shaking her head over how treasured it actually was, and how it had gotten her through many times during their marriage. Their issues were never anything too serious, just the ups and downs caused by obstacles that life tended to toss out for one to navigate. In those times, Gracie would go back to the book of poetry and remember that Henry loved her enough to do something out of the ordinary for her in the beginning, and then many times throughout their marriage.
Her Harry was a man who spoke with gestures. So many acts of love over so many years.
Gracie took the book to the bathtub and gently placed it in the rack near the soap and the candle. She undressed, then ever so carefully so that she would not slip, she climbed in and sink down below the surface of the bubbles and close her eyes. She remembered how her love of taking a hot bath took only second place to her love of Harry. And we’re both things that she missed so very dearly.
After a moment or two she opened her eyes and sat up a bit. She took the book into her hands and opened it.
“Hello, old friend,” she said, then flipped to the first earmarked page and began reading.
It was a poem from Emily Dickinson and her view of mothers as kind and gentle nurturers to nature. It made Gracie smile and remember her own youth, when she was full of sass and energy and danced in her kitchen with her daughter in her arms. A time when she was her daughter’s entire world and the first thing that she looked for when she opened her eyes in the morning and the last thing she looked upon when she closed them at night.
The next poem she turned to brought back the memory of the infant baby boy she held in her arms for only a few hours. When her time was done, she’d put him for his final moments into Harry’s arms and watched the silent tears rain down her husband’s face. They’d named him Gerard, meaning brave, because he had fought so hard in the battle for life before he’d slipped away.
She turned the page quickly, not wanting to engulf herself in that grief again. Suddenly she saw a folded sheet of paper in the crevice of the book. She pulled it out and putting the book aside, she unfolded the paper and began to read. Suddenly her heart felt so full it seemed that it might burst. The letter was from her dear Harry and dated from nearly ten years before.
In it he told her that he knew someday she would return to the book because it was the symbol of the beginning and the endurance of their love. He told her he would never leave her, even when she couldn’t feel his breath on her cheek, or the caress of his hands. That he would be waiting for her and would be there to meet her when it was her time.
It was signed,
Always yours, Harry.
Gracie folded the letter, but instead of putting it back in the book, she held it to her heart, not caring if the water blurred the writing, for her tears had already made their mark and stained the ink. The letter was the last sign she needed to make her decision. Gracie said a last prayer for her daughter and her grandchildren. She wished them all the peace and happiness they could find in their lives, and hoped they’d remember her fondly, then she closed her eyes.
She leaned back and made herself comfortable in the bathtub of the room that Harry made for her, surrounded by her favorite things, and she took her last breath.
It felt like only an instant later but when she opened her eyes again, Harry was waiting there. In his arms was her precious Delta, looking plump and satisfied. At his side was a brave-looking little boy that looked just like her dear Harry, and was surely the apple of his eye.
@Kay Bratt 09/16/2021